The House voted 383-33 to create a bipartisan commission to
study the feasibility of a museum on or near the National Mall
and recommend whether it should be part of the Smithsonian. The
vote came just before Mother's Day, which several
lawmakers noted. A similar measure is pending in the Senate.
Congress has allowed previous legislation calling for a women's
museum to die at least twice since 2005. The new bill would
follow a process that was used for African-American and
Latino-American museum proposals. The measure prohibits any
federal funding for the museum's creation in order to draw more
Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, who have
championed the effort, said the contributions of women have been
mostly left out of museums, statues and national landmarks. Not
enough is taught about women's history, they said, including
details about how women gained the right to vote less than 100
``It is a story that everyone should know, how the process of
the suffragists and their work that carried them from Seneca
Falls, New York, to Nashville where you finally saw the
ratification of the 19th Amendment,'' Blackburn said. ``These
suffragists, they were conservative women who led this fight for
women's museum foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, has raised
about $14 million and estimates it would cost about $400 million
to build. An advisory board for the museum includes women
ranging from Jenna Bush to Gloria Steinem.
In a survey of today's history textbooks, only one in 10 people
in the texts are women, said Joan Wages, the president and CEO
of the museum group. In national parks, less than 8 percent of
the statues are women. Of more than 200 statues in the U.S.
Capitol, only 15 women leaders are depicted.
``Women have essentially been left out of the telling of our
nation's history,'' Wages said.
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota spoke
against the museum bill. She said the museum concept ``will
enshrine the radical feminist movement'' and that there are no
assurances it won't become ``an ideological shrine to
abortion.'' She urged lawmakers to vote against it and in favor
of families and ``traditional marriage.'' No other lawmakers
spoke against it.
For decades, women's history was banished to the Capitol
basement. A statue of suffragists commissioned in 1920
originally included the inscription ``Women, first denied a
soul, then called mindless, now arisen, declared herself an
entity to be reckoned.'' But an all-male Congress in the 1920s
had the letters scraped off and sent the statue to the basement.
In 1997, the statue depicting Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth
Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott was moved upstairs to
Women now represent more than half the U.S. population and are a
key voting bloc. Maloney, who has worked on the museum effort
for years, said she doesn't know why anyone in Congress would
vote against it.
Washington already has museums about the media, spy agencies,
the postal service and other topics.
``Surely there's room for women as well,'' she said, noting
women led national movements for vaccinations, better schools,
health care and more. ``It's my hope and dream that by 2020,
which is the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to
vote, we will have a museum on the mall.''
On the Internet: National Women's History Museum: